PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


CP: Book Quarterly! Film Festival! So much high-brow activity going on, our brows will never be the same again! Seriously, though, some fine things are spotlighted this week, most notably Tanya Hamilton’s directorial debut, a Night that, I hope to God, will make us forget about Shyamalan.

Tanya Hamilton wasn’t raised in Philadelphia. She wasn’t even born in the U.S., emigrating from Jamaica with her mother when she was 6. But when it came time to shoot her first feature, Night Catches Us, the Northern Liberties resident was adamant about shooting in the city she’s called home for the past decade.

The film’s producers, not surprisingly, felt strongly about moving the production to New York, partly for tax reasons and partly out of sheer familiarity. But Hamilton knew the story, which stars Anthony Mackie as a Black Panther returning to his old neighborhood after years in self-imposed exile and Kerry Washington as a radical turned community activist, wouldn’t play properly in a changed setting.

“There’s a rawness here that doesn’t exist in New York,” Hamilton said early this week at a coffee shop near the home she shares with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. “Maybe Detroit. Because the poverty here is so pronounced, and there’s a sort of economic segregation, I think there’s an interesting connection with one’s past.” At Sundance, where the film premièred in January, she praised what she called the city’s “blackety-blackness,” the gritty, blue-collar quality that newcomers to Philadelphia learn to prize.

Way to rep your adopted city, for real. We’ve also got “A Page of Madness,” a restored Japanese silent film with a live music accompaniment, which always makes for an interesting, multi-sensory experience, as well as some solid recommendations for this fall’s must-reads.

PW: Halloween approaches, and if you’re in the mood for being scared senseless, Eastern State clearly isn’t the only haunted game in town. But something to ponder before you go to get doused in fake blood and scream yourself hoarse: Michael Alan Goldberg’s compellingly told story of the transformation of Pennhurt Hospital in the western suburbs into a haunted house, and the controversy surrounding both the hospital’s past and its present incarnation.


In the two decades after Pennhurst was abandoned, the thousands of residents who finally escaped Pennhurst were replaced by countless thousands more every year trying to sneak onto the property: Urban explorers interested in documenting this creepy, otherworldly place in photos, words and video; Ghost hunters, who have long claimed of hearing anguished screams or whispers of “Get out” inside the buildings and tunnels below; Vandals; Looters; Scrappers; Curious locals; Trespassers risked arrest, but unless the cops caught you destroying the place, or with booze or drugs, you were usually given a warning and told to leave.


But this fall, tens of thousands of people are streaming onto the property every weekend quite legally. They’re plunking down $25 ($50 for a VIP pass) to get their Halloween scares at “Pennhurst Asylum,” a brand-new haunted house set inside the site’s former Administration Building. The haunt was created by Richard Chakejian—a local real-estate developer who has owned the Pennhurst property since purchasing it from the state in 2008—and his business partner, Randy Bates. And the show has stirred up a controversy surrounding this 110-acre parcel of land and buildings not seen since the days of “Suffer the Little Children.”

Critics say the Pennhurst Asylum exploits the most tragic elements of Pennhurst’s history for profit. That it mocks people with disabilities. That it desecrates a property they consider hallowed ground—site of a precedent-setting legal victory that put into motion the re-integration of the developmentally disabled into society. Worst of all, they contend, the haunted house undermines the long, hard-fought and continuing struggle of the disabled community to escape being looked at as “others,” “freaks,” or something less-than-human.

The presentation of a variety of factions – the developers, the activists, the local historian, the louts on an Internet message board – don’t exactly add up to “a story of a town divided,” but the article covers all the angles, including the possibility of a civil-rights/disabled-rights museum down the road, and, perhaps most tellingly, polls people exiting the haunted house on whether they thought it made fun of disabled people. The hospital has a legacy of abuse and death, and people emerged from it thinking they’d seen a “re-enactment.” Hard to argue with that.


CP: A positive review that starts with an “F.U.” The shirts off our backs: the MLB players association cracks down. Ryuichi Sakamoto brings the noise… sort of. City Council is encouraged to find their spines.

PW: Sports and dick-jokes: An underrated partnership. Philly Republicans: More than a laughing stock? The Not-Dead-Yet Kennedys. The Yes Men: Whose Lie is it Anyway?

WINNER: Gotta give it to PW — the tone, approach and information in the Pennhurst article are a formidable combination. They gotta let this Goldberg guy write about something other than music more often.

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